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How far into the past are games willing to go?

Yesterday I got all existential and questioned the future of the human race, discussing the attempts fiction has made to explore a future so far away we can’t even conceive of it. It was all going quite well until Dransfield showed up in the comments section and ruined everything with his bloody facts. He’s always ruining things with facts, that man.

Anyway, the conclusion was that we’re probably not going to see any games look further into the future than titles like Mass Effect. That’s about as far as developers’ imaginations (and risk-taking) seems willing to stretch. But how far into the past are games willing to peer?

The past is far more knowable, as we were there for most of it. Although, who’s to say we weren’t beamed on to earth by aliens in the mid 15th Century as part of a weird experiment, and had our previous history downloaded into our brains? Well, that might have happened but let’s not confuse matters. Let’s say history is as we understand it to be. As such, games are more willing to step back into the past and explore the chronicles of human endeavour.

Part of the reason for this is that there are a lot of history nuts out there who just love thinking about what happened at the Battle of Trafalgar or whatever, so there’s a big audience that games like Total War can cater to. Meanwhile, Ubisoft managed to take the Crusades and Renaissance and make them somehow interesting in Assassin’s Creed, imparting a bit of history as they did so – albeit absolutely nonsense history tangled up in sci-fi that makes so little sense we just pretend a wizard did it all. Dynasty Warriors took us back to the turn of the millennium and made it feel as boring and repetitive as we imagine it really was back then, and God Of War transported us to mythological Greece, revealing it to be as utterly demented and violent as the stories that emerged from that period.

But few games show any desire to explore the beginning of time, or if they do it’s po-faced, like in Age Of Empires or Civilisation. Perhaps it’s because the beginning of the human lifespan was pretty boring. We were just  a load of monkeys milling around wondering what to do with ourselves. But perhaps we could look further back than that still. flOw could arguably be perceived as a metaphor for evolution, or even a glimpse at our earliest beginnings in the mush of the primordial soup. But how about you play as The Big Bang itself, creating the very fabric of the universe (did Spore aleady do this? Perhaps). Or maybe you could play as God, and…actually, wait, that’s probably getting into some very dangerous territory.

I guess games don’t look that far back because life was actually pretty dull back then. Amazing, in that we were developing from single-celled organisms into intelligent, fully-formed biological creatures, but dull, in that it’s not very exciting in terms of gameplay. Until a very clever developer comes along and finds some way to make it exciting, that is.

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  • Ian Dransfield

    Spore didn’t do the Big Bang as far as I remember, but it did start you out as a single-cell organism and you worked your way up. While a nice idea, it wasn’t executed as anything more than a snake/Pac-Man style game, with a bit of LEVEL UP! YOU’VE EVOLVED! at the end.

    It could be an interesting god game. You create an entire universe, have to make sure all the chemical compounds are right and planets are in the right places and stuff for living organisms to be created. Then once they’ve evolved they can all doubt your existence. Your ultimate victory would be having the hands-on creation of an atheist society OH THE IRONING IS DELICIOUS.

    I am using my week off productively.